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15May 15

From Claire Rushworth to Liz Barclay and back

Some years ago show-jump trainer Claire Rushworth sent me one of her pupils as she could not work out what to do next in order to improve the performance of both horse and rider any more. I had seen this lady jump at the odd competition so knew her her issues more or less.

I decided to take the jumps away but leave a course of poles on the ground. I had not seen this done before but it seemed to me that this way we could make a start with getting a rhythm and suitable tempo, work on corners and also straightness when approaching the the poles without having to worry about keeping jumps upright. It worked miracles as we were now able to dissect the individual problems without either horse or rider becoming weary of poles crashing left, right and center. We did about four sessions of this before returning to Claire. 

We worked on not dipping the inside shoulder into, over and out of the jump, on when to start pushing the new inside leg on more forward when 'jumping' a pole on a diagonal and wanting a lead change. Turned out that this was on one rein about three strides before the actual jump as this horse was stiffer on the side he had to change towards. He therefore needed the message earlier in order to straighten himself so he could re-bend in the new direction.

Every time he became too exuberant we made a halt,  let him think about it for the time needed and initially had to walk him as well in order to settle him down before we were able to pick up a controlled collected canter straight away from the halt. When changing leads on a straight line still going in the same direction, so without a message to change, he was also made to halt and then corrected back to the appropriate canter lead in a similar way.

In the first session I pulled the rider up on not walking sufficiently slow and controlled with a long but round and deep outline. Secondly, we worked on making a controlled walk-canter transition with the rider not dipping the inside shoulder and the horse being more alert.

Today I started this same pattern with a pupil event rider with some show-jump issues. Again I surprised not only my pupil but also myself with the effectiveness of this approach. The horse started initially with all the mistakes he normally makes over jumps. Too bold, changing when not asked, not changing when asked and running through the outside shoulder after the 'jump'. First we sorted the walk tempo and outline, then the canter transition, then just around on the same rein going large with one pole on each long side aiming for perfect straightness of horse and rider, making halt-walk- canter and eventually halt-canter transitions to correct unwanted lead changes and a too bold a canter.

When we finished, having done now a full circuit of  poles on the long side and short side, a change across the diagonal over a pole and proceeding with another full circuit on the other rein the rider told me this:" I finally felt he was light and we could have gone on in that canter forever. I know if we can work like this between the jumps it will make such a difference.

This horse has always had a tendency to either go too fast and subsequently too flat over the jumps, or, when slowed down to back off being behind the leg. Also, he would make up all kinds of lead changes anywhere at any time.

Sometimes it is not possible to remember everything at once and what to do when. So brake it up and decide what comes first in order to improve your jumping. This method helps you to work on your riding between the jump's and is always a good way to start breaking your bad habits.

One last tip, I myself learnt an awful lot from watching top show-jump riders working their horses in the warm-up area. It nearly looks like everything they do is slow-motion. They walk slow, but track up well and go into this very slow canter without the rider seemingly shifting a muscle. They know they need this control- from the leg into their hand and engagement and impulse without becoming stressed or excited- in order to be able to get through a course which inevitably will cause plenty of excitement with the odd surprise and imbalance. 


Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.